Arab bank and terrorism: Corporate accountability gone awry

Fathers of victims of terror attacks speak out.

The aftermath of a bus attack in Haifa, 2003 (photo credit: REUTERS)
The aftermath of a bus attack in Haifa, 2003
(photo credit: REUTERS)
March 5, 2003, began like any other normal day, but that day became a nightmare from which we have been unable to wake after a fanatic terrorist blew himself and others up on a public bus on the streets of Haifa. We collectively had three children on the bus – Asaf Zur (16 years old), Yuval Mendellevich (13 years old), and Tal Kehrmann (17 years old). Two were coming home from school, and the other was going shopping for a senior prom.
Their lives were cut short in an instant when the terrorist detonated his explosives.
It is often said that “time heals all wounds,” but we can attest that our pain increases with every day that passes. We have felt the unthinkable burden placed on our shoulders every day since our children were murdered. We yearn for answers and “what ifs” constantly eat at us. We yearn for a day when such attacks won’t be possible… at least not systematically funded by a corporation or enabled by a bank such as this attack was. That’s why we are dedicated to ensure others don’t have to lose precious loved ones.
Terrorism is a chain of evil that is long and made of many links.
Terrorism isn’t just about the last and weakest link – the terrorist that explodes, shoots or stabs. Terrorism is about what made that last act possible. It is about the recruiters, engineers, inciters, donors and mostly financiers of terrorism.
Money is the fuel on which terrorism runs. Stop the flow of money and terrorism will come to a halt. Unfortunately, these days, financing is not done by people smuggling cash in suitcases. It is done on a much larger scale using international banks. Those banks must be held responsible for their part in this chain of evil.
Our children were killed by a Hamas terrorist who attempted to kill as many people as possible.
We later found out that Arab Bank was providing the financial apparatus to award what amounted to insurance payments to the families of “martyrs” (suicide bombers and other terrorists) who died while perpetrating attacks against civilians.
The payments were occurring primarily during the Second Intifada, which was a time of unparalleled violence in the form of shootings and suicide/homicide bombings of innocent civilians on buses, in cafes and on the highways in Israel. We firmly believe the Arab Bank was an accomplice in the murder of our children by helping to fund these terrible acts.
On October 11, 2017, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Jesner, et al. v. Arab Bank, PLC, to decide whether corporations such as Arab Bank may be held responsible for violations of customary international law – the “law of nations.”
You may ask, why would Israelis look for help from American courts? First, terrorism is international and not something that happens only in Israel. The 9/11 attacks in the United States demonstrated this to Americans, and terrorists have left their mark in countless other places, including Madrid, London, Barcelona, Paris, Brussels, Turkey, Iraq, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
Secondly, the American Congress in 1789 enacted a statute commonly referred to as the Alien Tort Statute that provides a venue in American courts for lawsuits filed by non-American citizens harmed by acts committed in violation of customary international law. In 2013, the Supreme Court determined that this law required that the conduct giving rise to the claim must “touch and concern the territory of the United States … with sufficient force” to allow those claims to proceed under the Alien Tort Statute.
Our case before the Supreme Court does concern action in the US despite the attacks occurring in Israel. Arab Bank operated a branch in Manhattan, and it was this branch that was critical to funding terrorism because it would exchange foreign currencies for valuable and easy-to-transfer US dollars. The exchanged money was sent to accounts of Hamas leaders, Hamas operatives, Hamas-run organizations and Hamas terrorists throughout the Middle East with accounts at the Arab Bank.
These transfers were even made to infamous founders of Hamas, such as the quadriplegic founder and spiritual leader of the movement Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and the founder and leader of Hamas’ military wing, Saleh Shehadeh, both of whom were Arab Bank account holders in Gaza.
The federal appeals court in New York, however, determined that corporations such as Arab Bank were immune from suit under the Alien Tort Statute solely on the basis of their corporate status. In other words, countries and individuals are prohibited from violating international law, but corporations are free to do so with impunity.
Americans killed in the same attack as our children have been permitted to pursue their claims against Arab Bank under a different law, and the inequity between allowing one person to pursue claims but to preclude the person who may have been sitting next to them and suffered the same harm is clear and palpable.
Ever since our children were brutally murdered in a terrorist attack, fighting terrorism in all its forms became our life mission. This is the only way we can sleep at night, knowing we are doing everything we can to protect our living children and others.
The phrase “noblesse oblige” reflects the idea that someone with power and influence should use their social position to help other people in other places, the inferred responsibility of privileged people to act with generosity and nobility toward those less privileged. Those who have suffered at the hands of terrorists, or who have been brutally enslaved or trafficked across borders, or who were the victims of other similar human rights abuses are those less privileged individuals who look to the United States to provide a remedy – recognizing that there must be a real connection between the conduct at issue and the United States.
We can only hope that the Supreme Court will determine that corporations are not allowed to violate customary international law and harm innocent civilians.
To find corporations immune for such illegal actions would undermine precisely what the US stands for – life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and equality under the law.
The writers are three fathers from Haifa whose children were killed in a bus bombing in Haifa in 2003.